Chatterbox (1936)

Chatterbox (1936)

Directed by George Nicholls Jr. with a screenplay by Sam Mintz (Skippy (1931)) based on a story by David Carb this B movie comedy drama features Anne Shirley in the title role as Jenny Yates a simple Vermont country girl who’s always dreamt of being a stage actress. Her mother had been one 20 years earlier playing a part on stage in “Virtue’s Reward”. Ironically a New York acting company has been perfecting this very same play in Jenny’s sleeping little town working out the kinks before taking it to the Big Apple. But Jenny’s mum had effectively run away from home and been banished never to return by her father Uriah Lowell (Edward Ellis) for wanting to pursue an acting career. Now Jenny lives a rather sheltered life with the same man her grandfather and a young farmhand named Michael Arbuckle (George Offerman Jr.) who tattles on her. She’s learned everything ‘knows’ about etiquette proper behavior and acting (!) from an Emily Post-Farmer’s Almanac type book which is to say she’s very naive uninformed and a ham actress at best.

Jenny meets Philip Greene Jr. (Phillips Holmes) outside the barn that’s being used as the playhouse for the New York company’s production. Phil is a stand-in actor who’s been helping out his friend the play’s director Archie Fisher (Erik Rhodes); since Phil is a wannabe painter the Vermont countryside has provided him with an opportunity to paint trees etc.. Phil also happens to be the son of a wealthy man who doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps or work in the family business. Jenny interrupts Phil while he’s working on one of his paintings and effectively tells him (and ‘us’) her whole life’s story. He’s polite but otherwise (at least initially) uninterested; he excuses himself after a while but not before offering to leave a ticker for her at the box office so that she might see the play that evening. When Jenny returns home her stern grandfather who’d learned about the play through a flier in his newspaper cautions her to stay away from the playhouse and after some discussion warns her that if she goes to the show she’ll find herself locked out forever (e.g. just like her mother had been).

Of course Jenny can’t resist sneaking out of the house to see the play her mother had once starred in but she’s surprised to find that “Virtue’s Reward” is not that evening’s production. A fellow patron whispers something about an ill actress; earlier director Fisher’s lead actress a sophisticated urbanite named Lillian Temple (Lucille Ball) had complained about not being paid. Disappointed Jenny walks out and returns home to find the door has been latched; she’d thought her grandfather was keeping his word but he’d actually had a change of heart and Michael had locked the door out of revenge for an earlier disagreement they’d had. Driving back home Phil discovers that Jenny is a stowaway in the trunk of his automobile. A starving artist without enough gas to drive her back again he reluctantly agrees to take her on to New York with him. Encouraged by Jenny’s enthusiasm for acting and his understanding landlord Emily ‘Tippie’ Tipton (Margaret Hamilton) Phil writes a letter of introduction for Jenny to Archie Fisher; his letter really asks him to let her down easy.

When Jenny arrives at the theater with Phil’s letter in hand she ends up ham acting several parts of “Virtue’s Reward” in the waiting room charming the stage manager and veteran actors in attendance who are polite enough not to laugh at her. Fisher sees the performance and decides that Jenny is a perfect replacement for Lillian because unbeknownst only to Jenny the revival of “Virtue’s Reward” is a campy burlesque show. Fisher threatens to fire anyone who laughs at Jenny’s acting and forbids them from telling her the truth about the production. Phil is surprised to learn that his friend has hired Jenny learns that the joke’s on her but can’t bring himself to tell her because of how happy and grateful she is. Tippie can’t do it either. Meanwhile Uriah who’s been trying to find his granddaughter has tracked her to New York and the offices of Philip Greene Sr.(Granville Bates). The two old codgers get along famously drinking expensive liquor and smoking cigars while they try to out B.S. each other about their family’s legacies (bragging about involvement with Paul Revere and the signing of the U.S. Constitution!).

Both Uriah and Greene Sr. eventually arrive at Tipton’s boarding house where they learn about Jenny from Tippie and Phil who was (debatably) on his way to opening night. Naturally Jenny plays her part straight and the audience erupts in laughter bringing tears to her eyes. Phil rushes to her dressing room where he tries to console her but she throws him out with the older men look on. However driving home with her understanding grandfather Jenny hears a noise when the car goes over a bump. Uriah stops the car and they discover that Phil has stowed away in the trunk. It seems Phil really does care for Jenny and that a happy ending with the two of them getting together is the film’s conclusion.

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